Happy belated New Year, and welcome back to Parental Parolees!
My writing has been severely cramped due to our 4 year-old grandson traveling with us since the beginning of the year, and given I usually write late at night or in the middle of the night, his sleeping area (and my writing area) is off limits once he goes to bed. We need him well-rested or our work is multiplied three-fold once he gets cranky if he doesn't get enough sleep. Pray for us . . .
But anyway, I've found a rare moment to catch you up on the past month.
Leaving our usual haunt at Leisure Acres in Cleveland, GA, we had an easy drive south on I-75, stopping at a small campground called Paradise Lake RV Park, just outside of Tifton, GA. Inexpensive, because there was neither a lake nor was it considered paradise by any means. But it had a 50A hookup with water and sewer, plus it kept me from having a long driving day of over 9 hours to our final destination in Florida.
After overnight rains, a sunny day dawned for our short drive to Winter Garden, Florida. Winter Garden is about 15 miles directly west of Orlando on State Route 50. The park was called Stage Stop Campground. We chose it for it's central location to both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and it's proximity to all of the possible Orlando parks. Disney was out, since at 4, Jace is a bit too young to truly enjoy everything there, but Sea World was definitely on our radar screen. We also chose Stage Stop due to it's low monthly rate; just $775 as opposed to the more pricey parks closer to the coasts. State Stop is a no frills park (no playground for Jace), but it has very level grassy lots that have at least 30 feet between slides and the next lot. We definitely had plenty of space, especially if the lot next door was unoccupied, as it was for about 70% of our month-long stay. One oddity of their sites was their water and electric hookups, which were centrally shared between the BACK of the back-in lots, so we needed every bit of our power cord and fresh water hose to make our connections. One power box was shared, with either two 30A connections or a 30A and 50A connection. Sewer, fortunately, was in it's normal driver's side spot.
Winter Garden has a nice railroad museum in their quaint downtown that Jace enjoyed. The people there are very friendly and are clearly hampered by not being able to properly present their museum due to COVID restrictions. It will be nice to return when they can really show off their programs. There is also a very nicely done Farmer's Market each Saturday morning, with not only the usual produce, but breads, cheeses, spreads, pastas and pies. Downtown also features Scoops Ice Cream, where Jace enjoyed his Superman ice cream of red, blue and yellow colors and flavors.
A day trip over to Plant City was in order to see Dinosaur World. It's really a pretty neat place to take kids to see life-sized representations of a couple of dozen types of thunder lizards in a wooded setting. As with many places, lots of exhibits were closed where some learning activities would have been presented, but all-in-all it was a good way to spend a few hours outdoors. Jace was NOT thrilled with the animatronic versions of a couple of dinosaurs by the exit to the museum, but he loved everything else, including the dinosaur themed playground.
Being centrally located as we were, we took advantage of some nice weather to head over to Daytona Beach in order to drive the Mini on some sand. It seems to be an annual event for us now, as we did the same thing in Port Aransas, TX last year about the same time. We encountered a large flock of sandpipers and their babies right on the “roadway”, so Barbara had to get out and herd the birds so we could safely pass. She's a natural!
The Atlantic side also featured Blue Springs State Park, winter home to well over 100 manatees. Didn't get too close a look at them, but you'll see their ghostly shapes moving underwater in the pictures featured here. Still, it was a nice day for a long hike in the park, finished off by a stop at “the best pizza in town”, Blue Springs Pizza. Very, very tasty. Another State park we visited was Wekiwa Springs State Park. This was a very nice park about 40 minutes away, but it featured a nice set of trails to hike with both Jace and Grover, and the campground on site was nicely set up for some larger rigs like ours. Might be a destination for a week or two next year.
The Gulf coast beckoned, as we had a visit scheduled with our oldest nephew Matthew, his husband Tommy and their kids Ainsley and Hudson. Ainsley and Jace adopted each other, and had a great playdate while we adults socialized over quiche, fruit and wine. Hopefully, we can see them again before we leave Florida to drop Jace back off with his mother.
The highlight for Jace in January was Sea World. With COVID, you have to make a reservation for the day you want to attend, but before that, you have to buy your tickets. Tickets are pricey at about $89, but it's still a good deal for a whole day admittance. We could have searched for some discount tickets, but our window of opportunity was closing on our month in the Orlando area. The Antarctica exhibit with penguins was a big hit, however, it's kept at a crisp 32 degrees so when you're dressed for 75 degree temperatures it's get a bit nippy in there.
They do a great show at Sea World called Sea Lion High, where the most fun was the mixups with cast members and sea lions. Jace got to ride some kiddie rides in the new Sesame Street area (we're still trying to figure out how Sesame Street and aquatic animals are linked), and he fed some seal lions some fish. But the highlight of the day was the dolphin show. We specifically took a seat in the first row next to the tank, otherwise known as “The Soak Zone”.
It lived up to it's reputation.
Now, Jace will tell you today that getting splashed by dolphins was his favorite part of Sea World, but at the time of his soaking, he was NOT very happy about it. But being up front not only got us seriously wet, it also allowed us to see these magnificent creatures up close an personal. From corkscrewing underwater around the interior of the tank, to three dolphins coming out of the water to perch themselves on the side of the tank about 6 feet in front of us, the seats were simply the best!
We had hoped to catch a space launch at Cape Canaveral in January, but every launch we tried for ended up getting postponed and moved to a time which just wouldn't work out for a 4 year-old; either too early in the morning or too late at night. We'll hopefully have a couple of chances in February.
January ended, it's time to bring in our slides, bring up our jacks, attach the Mini to the back and head slightly north to a self-styled “Blue Gasser Group” mini-rally in St. Augustine. We found us a really nice resort to stay at for February that is both beautiful and inexpensive, and I'll cover that in my next blog post.
We're Dave and Barbara Richard, and we're planning the ultimate retirement experience - travel the U.S. and Canada in style in a Tiffin Open Road 36LA Class A motor home, play golf and stop at every weird and wacky roadside attraction we can find.